Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Row in Nigerian House of Representatives Over $9.3 Million Seized in South Africa
Federal Republic of Nigeria House of Representatives.
Written by Azimazi Momoh Jimoh and Terhemba Daka, Abuja
Nigerian Guardian

• Okays court-martialling of 12 soldiers

THERE was a row in the House of Representatives Tuesday over the controversial $9.3 million taken into South Africa by two Nigerians and an Israeli purportedly to purchase arms for an unidentified intelligence agency.

   The confusion was triggered when a motion on the matter was introduced for debate.

  Besides, the Senate Committee on Defence declared Tuesday that it had begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the seizure of the $9.3 million.

  Members of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) staged a walk-out from the plenary sitting of the House, when the motion moved on the matter by the Deputy Minority Leader, Abdulrahman Kawu, was not accepted for debate by the mainly members of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), citing security implications of the issues involved.

   Kawu had prayed the chamber to investigate the matter through its committees on Defence and Aviation.

  But the Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, who presided over the meeting, insisted the matter would better be handled by a committee, a development which did not go down well with the opposition in the House, resulting in heated arguments on the floor and eventual call for a voice vote.

  When Ihedioha put the question, majority members voted against further debate on the matter.

   The APC caucus in the chamber described the development as “very scandalous, very disgraceful and very appalling.” The caucus which later addressed reporters on the matter said the party was concerned because the issue was becoming a source of shame to the country in the international community.

    The House Minority Whip, Samson Osagie, who spoke on the matter in company with all the other APC members said: “We are here this afternoon to bare our minds on a very scandalous, very disgraceful and very appalling event that took place a week ago that borders on the image of our country, Nigeria.

  “Let me state clearly that we are not just here as the members of the APC caucus of the House. We are also here as concerned Nigerians who hold the mandate of the Nigerian people to defend their interest, to ensure that corruption is reduced to the barest minimum if not totally eliminated, to ensure that our country’s integrity remains intact in the eyes of the international community.

   “We are all aware that a week ago or so, the South African government impounded an aircraft purportedly belonging to a top religious leader in this country that was used to carry $9.3 million. They were said to be in mint condition and have never been used.

   “As if that was not enough, the Federal Government has come up to own up that it was (on its behalf) that such money was carried and that it was made for the purchase of arms and ammunition for the purpose of fighting insurgency. The questions that we have for the Federal Government are as follows:

  “Is it faster or safer to do an international transaction of such magnitude by ferrying cash across the continent or simply (using) wire transfer that can go through in a matter of seconds or matter of few hours?

“If indeed, the matter involves security issues like the purchase of arms by foreign government like Nigeria, why was the South African government not brought into the picture before hand and how could South African government be sure that the arms were purchased legitimately by the Nigerian government and not by the insurgents when there were no officials of the NSA’s office or the director of state security department that accompanied such money?

  “If indeed the manufacturers of such equipment were expecting large sums of money by cash, why did they not make adequate arrangement with the authorities in South Africa to declare the cash on arrival since it was the law in South Africa that you must declare any amount in excess of 2.500 dollars?

   “Why was the money belonging to the Federal Government and meant for the purchase of equipment for the Federal Government moved by a private jet when we have over five to six airplanes in the presidential air fleet?

   “Why was the money not accompanied by the officials of NSA and DSS?

   “Why would the government that is at the peak of promoting cashless policy in our country be the chief breaker of that policy by moving such an amount of cash if indeed, it was a legitimate transaction of the Federal Government?

  “Why were the officials of our embassy in South Africa not on hand to make the entry easier and smoother? Since the South African government has said the amount is above the limit of cash allowed into the country, why would a whole government like Nigeria not know the simple immigration law of a sister country and why would they have to take it out of the Oliver Tambo International Airport and went to land in a village where you have a local airport?

   “Why would government of Nigeria seek to smuggle 9.3 million dollars? A country that is regarded as a giant of Africa smuggling an amount worth 1.5 billion Naira, in a country where citizens are wallowing in poverty for unexplained reasons?

   “Is it just a wicked coincidence that the aircraft belonging to a personal friend and an unapologetic ally of the president in the person of the chairman of the CAN was used to smuggle the cash?

  “If contrary to the above posers, the transaction was contracted out to a private company in Nigeria, does it amount to the offence of money laundering under our laws for the Federal Government to have allowed that company to attempt to pay for the equipment by cash to the tune of that amount without passing through financial institutions?

   “For us as a people and for us lawmakers, we find this unacceptable, unethical, illegitimate and in our view, it is an illegal transaction. The Nigerian government owes the Nigerian people an explanation as to what that source of money comes from and the purpose for which it was made.

   “There is no denying the fact that given the circumstances of this transaction, there were ill motives and it cannot be unassociated with money laundering or an attempt to steal the Nigerian money belonging to the people of Nigeria up to the tune of 1.5 billion Naira, (9.3 million US dollars).”

   The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence,  George Thompson Sekibo,  disclosed the probe into the seizure of the money  after a  three-hour closed door meeting with service chiefs in Abuja yesterday.

  The service chiefs were led to the meeting by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.

  He said: “We are still investigating. We have started the investigation, when we get through the investigation we will brief you.”

  Asked to confirm the seized money actually belonged to Nigeria, he said “the money belongs to Nigeria government.”

 The meeting, he said, “went very well.”

  He added: “There were several questions here and there and we are digging to find out details and facts about what happened. The committee is satisfied that we are on top of the matter.”

  He refused to answer further questions insisting that Nigerians would be told the outcome of the committee’s investigation into the matter at the end of their probe.

  On the 12 soldiers sentenced to death by a military panel for mutiny, he said that the Senate was not under pressure to intervene to save the lives of the soldiers.

  He said: “No we are not (under pressure) because the Armed Forces are established by an Act of the National Assembly. The Act spelt out categorically the conduct of soldiers and the way they are to behave wherever they are.

   “If you join the military that Act is to guide you and your conduct.

  “If you go contrary to any of the prescribed sections of the Act the punishment prescribed for the Act you violated will come on you.

  “So the military did not just wake up one day and say that they are going to kill Mr. A or Mr. B.

  “They (military) went through the necessary processes and they found them guilty.

  “But I think that those found guilty also have a way out. They can go on appeal and if the appeal finds them not guilty that will be it.

  “But for what the military has done, they have done the best thing; because you must instill discipline in the Armed Forces.”  “If you don’t do so one day all of us here will be sacked and you will not hear of this place again. I think we should encourage the military.”

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